A Conversation on the COVID-19 Pandemic with Carole Cukell Neff

A Q&A about the state of her firm and estate planning/elder law practice

Published in 2020 Louisiana Super Lawyers Magazine — January 2020

Photo by: Romero & Romero

SL: Have you made the move to remote yet?

CCN: Only certain people have, and some of us don’t have the technology in our homes—me included. We’re trying to make that happen, but we’re backed up in ordering the equipment. It’s a very challenging time.

SL: Are you getting a lot of calls from elder law clients?

CCN: Not as much as I would have expected.

SL: Are nursing homes on lockdown?

CCN: Very much so. One in particular—which was where the first [state] cases came out of and four people have passed away, is indeed on lockdown. It’s very troubling. It’s tough. One of my closest friends’ father is there, and of course they can’t visit.

The people who need the most input and assistance are those who you can’t approach. It’s a real catch 22.

SL: What are you doing to navigate this, or are you even able to?

CCN: We’re responding on a day-by-day basis, and dealing with our own daily operations and how we can service the clients. You can’t be particularly proactive when it happens the way it did.

SL: Are you making firm-level decisions about changes?

CCN: The partners just had a conference call a few minutes ago—and will probably have another one in about an hour—to talk about taking shifts and who’s actually still coming in. We’re physically spread out here, so we have the distance we need, but people are worried about just coming downtown, going in an office building, being in an elevator, so even though we’re doing what we can in our office, we don’t have control over the rest of the environment. It’s something we’re struggling with.

SL: Are you figuring out cleaning shifts and things like that?

CCN: In our office, if we have a meeting with a client in the conference room, we’re spraying it down with disinfectant before they arrive and we’re spraying it down when they leave. And there’s hand sanitizer everywhere you turn.

Some of my conferences have become conference calls—there’s more of that happening now—and some of the communications are happening more by email than correspondence.

SL: Are there concerns on the employment side with letting people go?

CCN: We don’t expect that. We’re not that large of a firm, and don’t have that many staff, so the way we envision it right now is we need everybody.

SL: Is there a concern that work is going to dry up?

CCN: I think that’s a likely outcome for the nature of the practice that I have, for example. People who would normally want to come in and discuss their estate planning are putting it on hold. Some are continuing on, but getting documents executed is going to be a challenge. Who’s going to be a witness?

I actually had that exact problem just yesterday with clients, where they called friends to serve as witnesses and they canceled. So I went to their home with one of my staff to serve as a witness.

SL: Do you anticipate lawsuits coming down the road against nursing home facilities and other places, because of potential liabilities?

CCN: I would not be shocked if there were wrongful death lawsuits filed and/or personal injury suits against nursing homes. I don’t know where they’ll end up. I know, for example, that Lambeth House—the place with all the cases that is shut down—has been taking every precaution that people would know to take in order to protect people and keep them safe.

When I told you [via email], ‘I don’t know if I have any brilliant thoughts or ideas,’ that’s because we’re just taking it as it comes. We don’t know what the fallout is going to be. We have the stock market where it is, and we know people’s estates are going to be significantly impacted. The economy is suffering and will suffer more and more as this progresses. Louisiana’s economy relies heavily on tourism, and businesses are being shut down, the government is forcing restaurants to close, and layoffs are occurring. A lot of our economy here is supported by people who live paycheck to paycheck, and now they won’t have those paychecks. So there’s going to be some serious fallout, and we haven’t even seen the beginning of it yet.

A lot depends on how long this lasts. When will the cases flatten out, instead of doubling, tripling, et cetera? It’s a little too early to tell. The pronouncement by our governor to shut down the schools just happened a week ago. So it’s only within the past week where it’s really settling in. We’ve barely had time to take a breath.

Check out our article with Ms. Neff from 2016, The Need of Moment

For more information and articles for legal professionals navigating COVID-19 as it relates to their law practice and clients, visit FindLaw’s COVID-19 resource center or visit superlawyers.com/articles (search for COVID-19).

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